So it’s not every day, after a long and passionate sexual session, that your hubby abandons your home, crawls out onto the beach and lets himself be pecked to death by birds.(Here in the human kingdom, where sanity reigns supreme, our partners usually have less drastic death wishes: maybe he pulls out a cigarette, maybe she calls up his ex to share the good news).
But in the animal kingdom, where a mate one minute may be dinner the next, nothing is taboo. Just ask the Pacific octopus, the subject of biologist Roland Anderson’s recent research titled “Octopus: The Ocean’s Intelligent Invertebrae,” which came out this May. His book documents little-known information about these peaceable octopi- and the unusual habits that characterize the sex lives of the species.
Like, for instance, how it takes four hours for the male octopus to transfer sperm from his ligula, one of his arms specially designed to hold erectile tissue and its accompanying billions of sperm. He inserts his yard-long ligula into the female’s gill openings, deposits his seed, and then promises to call her next weekend.
As is the case with many men, he never will. After mating, male Pacific octopi suffer a pretty gruesome fate –– after reaching maturity they undergo “senescence” or rapid aging, causing them to become disoriented, stop feeding themselves and eventually wander out onto the beach where they become food for predators or die of starvation. Hey, you might want to put yourself out of your misery, too, if sex took four hours.
The mother then lays her eggs in a cozy den, barricades the den’s walls and waits for the eggs to grow.
Once they are large enough to survive on their own, she blows them to the top of the ocean and cozies into her new home space. She passes away peacefully knowing the life cycle has been completed. Anderson, the author, quipped, “There is no safe sex for octopi”- making possibly the lamest joke in all of marine biology.
But octopi aren’t the only creatures with wildly fascinating, or mildly intimidating, sexual practices. Blue whales, for instance, have 10-foot-long penises, which they keep tucked inside their bodies when not in use. But the ultimate bragging rights go to the common barnacle, whose penis is 10 times his height when erect, allowing him to have sex with the female and not even move from his rock (in a man, that would result in a 50-to-60 foot member, and he’d never have to leave his Lay-Z-Boy recliner).
With all these gigantic genitalia and romps in the wild, it makes me wonder whether these animals really enjoy sex as much as we do. Sure, you’ve got a 60 foot penis, but can you really put it to good use when it’s that size? Most importantly, can you make sure she orgasms first? Or is that not really the point at this junction in animal development? Is it really all as clinical as it looks in National Geographic?
Mary Roach, author of “Bonk: the Curious Coupling of Science and Sex,” gave a talk on www.TED.com which provides a little insight. While there isn’t much research on whether female animals can reach orgasm, some evidence suggests that exciting them is an important part of the sexual process. When female pigs are artificially inseminated, for instance, stimulating the female boosts piglet production by 6 percent, a notable sum for those large-scale farmers who have invested big bucks in bacon. And how do you stimulate a female pig? You caress her underside, gently knead into her back and surprise her with champagne and roses.
And, just like the Bloodhound Gang informed us, it’s important to be mammalian. Pleasurable responses are only characteristic of mammals and, because all female mammals have a clitoris, it is assumed they derive at least some pleasure from sexual activity.
But I say, let’s not do it like they do on the Discovery Channel. I prefer a little privacy, maybe a comfortable bed setting, and, generally speaking, not dying after I reach orgasm. But if you’re really a tiger in bed, I advocate whatever feels best.